AIMS To generate a plasmid-free derivative of an extensively used industrial starter strain Lactococcus lactis DPC4268, which could be used as a backbone strain for starter improvement programmes. METHODS AND RESULTS DPC4268 containing four large plasmids was subjected to high temperature plasmid curing resulting in derivatives, each with a different plasmid complement of one, two or three different plasmids in addition to a plasmid-free derivative. Industrially relevant phenotypes were assigned to each plasmid on the basis of detailed phenotypic and genetic analyses and these were (a) proteinase activity (Prt, 60 kb) (b) lactose fermentation (Lac, 55 kb) (c) bacteriophage adsorption inhibition (Ads, 44 kb) and (d) type I restriction/modification (R/M, 40 kb). The plasmid-free variant of DPC4268 was shown to be transformable at frequencies comparable to the common laboratory strain L. lactis MG1614. Furthermore its genome was demonstrated to be significantly different from the laboratory strains L. lactis MG1614 and the recently sequenced L. lactis IL1403 genomes by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. CONCLUSIONS This study produced an easily transformable plasmid-free derivative which was genomically different from both MG1614 and IL1403. In addition, important plasmid-borne industrial traits, including two phage-resistance mechanisms, were identified in DPC4268. SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY L. DPC4268 is a vitally important commercial strain used in the manufacture of Cheddar cheese. The generation of a plasmid-free derivative may provide an important backbone strain as a basis for future strain improvement purposes.